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A Stolen Fiddle

Anne-Marie Ford    -    28 March 2013

In 1875 Mendoza Welch, a Gypsy and a musician, had his fiddle and bow stolen, along with some other items, to the value of £2.6/- The incident, which occurred in Bedfordshire, was reported and Mendoza’s deposition, dated 12th November 1875, which he signed with his mark, as Dozer Welsh (sic) is below:

I am a labourer living at Eaton Ford, on Thursday 11th November 1875 I was with

Samuel Endersby, a labourer of Biggleswade, at Shefford. We walked to Biggleswade together. I had with me a violin, two green baize bags and a shirt when, by Folly Railway Bridge, Biggleswade, I gave Endersby the above articles to hold while I went to ease myself, he took them out of my hand. I left him standing in the road and went through a gate. When I went back he was gone.

Samuel Endersby was a hardened criminal, which begs the question why Mendoza should imagine he could trust him. Several convictions in Bedfordshire, as well as others in Hertfordshire, London, Kent, Huntingdonshire and Hampshire, had resulted in Endersby’s imprisonment on a number of occasions, as well as branding twice, in Hertfordshire and in London, for desertion. At Bedfordshire he was described as30 years of age, single, 5 ft 6 ins, with a sallow complexion, a long face, dark hair, hazel eyes and the letters “D.D.” on his left breast. These are, presumably, the brandings meted out in punishment for desertion on two occasions. As a result of this latest crime, stealing from Mendoza Welch, and taking into account his many previous convictions, Endersby was sentenced to transportation and transferred to Pentonville prison in the interim.

Mendoza had also had a number of brushes with the law himself. At the age of about 18, on 29th January 1868, he was arrested for vagrancy and sentenced to seven days hard labour as “Mendosy” Welch. Five years later, as “Doxey” Welch, Mendoza found himself in court once more, this time for being drunk and riotous. The same punishment of seven days hard labour was handed down. Other events included being charged with being drunk, creating a breach of the peace and assault. The Northampton Mercury of 14th November 1874 reported this affray:

A Brace of Unharmonious Fiddlers: James Gray, fiddler, Grantham, Lincolnshire and Dozer Welsh, fiddler, Cambridge, were charged with being drunk and creating a breach of the peace, on the Market-square, on the 7th inst. Welsh was further charged with assaulting PC Wadhams while taking him to the station-house, and also assaulting William Mills at the same time. . . . [the] constable stated that prisoner Welsh kicked a piece of flesh off his knee, and tried to bite him. William Mills was assisting the constable when the prisoner assaulted him. Gray was fined 7/6d and costs, or seven days, and Welsh was fined 17/6d costs, or one month. Welsh was then charged with assaulting William Joice, whilst assisting to take prisoner to the station- house. Committed for seven days imprisonment with hard labour.

Mendoza’s role as a fiddle player is not surprising, for he was the grandson of a well-known fiddle player in the area, Charles Maclean, whose marriage to Sophia Hane(? Haynes) on 4th December 1799 at Flitton with Silsoe, Bedfordshire, had resulted in eight known children, and two of these married into the Welch family. The fiddle player William Welch married their daughter, Sophia, and William’s brother John married another daughter, Chrissany. Chrisanny was baptised with her brother Henry on 26th December 1813 at Sandy in Bedfordshire, where her father is described as a fiddler and tinker.

It was John Welch and ChrisannyMacLean, then, who were Mendoza’s parents; he was probably one of their youngest children and was baptised as Mendoza Welsh on 26th January 1851 at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire, having been born in Odsey Lane, Guilden Morden, on 18th January, and recorded as the son of “John Welsh, a Gypsy pedlar, and Christiana, formerly MacLane.” Probably the eldest of John Welch’s children was the Cinderella who was baptised in 1831, the daughter of John Welch and “Clarissa,” dying aged just 19 years, in 1850 and buried on 4th November at St Mary the Virgin, Baldock, Hertfordshire. Whether Clarissa is simply a mis-hearing of Chrissany, or a first wife for John, remains a question, what is known is that John is the father of Priscilla Welch, who formed a union with Tobias Shaw, the son of John and Elizabeth; Lucy Welch,the partner of Tobias’s brother, Rodney Shaw; Polly Welch, who formed a partnership withthe evangelist Gypsy, Cornelius Smith; Isabella, who married hawker John Hale, and who referred to Chrisanny as her mother on a census record.

Priscilla was to name two of her children after her siblings, and baptised Cinderella, Mendoza, Elizabeth, Rodney and Sarah at Ardeley, in Hertfordshire, on 8th April 1871, where she is described as a “pedlar living in the lanes.” In the 1861 census she can be found at Saffron Walden in Essex with Tobias Shaw, his brother Rodney and his family, and three children,Alfred, Cinderella and Elizabeth, all recorded under their mother’s name. And there are other important members of the Shaw family present. There is Dinah Shaw, the wife of Big Jim Shaw, and Dinah’s daughter, Silvesta, with her partner, Stephen Loveridge, and their many children: Stephen, like his father a mat-maker, was born about 1841; Counceletta, born about 1843; Chrissania, born around two years later; Acquilia (sic), born around 1846; Catherine, born about 1849; Centenia, born the following year; Silvester, born around 1852; Polly, born about 1854; Alfred, born about 1857; Zachariah, born the following year; Izeliah, born about 1861.

By the 1881 census however Priscilla and Tobias have removed to the parish of Fairfield, in Derbyshire, where Tobias is recorded as a licensed hawker. With them are some of their younger children, Sarah, Nancy, Flora, Rodney, Polly and Freddy. Meanwhile, Priscilla’s sister, Lucy, is in the parish of Martlesham, in Suffolk, and her partner, Rodney, is here described as a fiddler and musician. The children accompanying them are Tobias, John, James, Anthony, Alfred, Matilda and Jessie, together with Rodney’s father, John, now a widower.

The same census records show Chrisanny travelling with her daughter, Isabella, and her family in Bedfordshire. Isabella married labourer John Hale, son of Daniel Hale, a publican, and Alice (formerly Osborn), on 7th April 1857 at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. John is described as a hawker in the 1881 census, which also records John and Isabella’s children, Arthur, born about 1858, James, born about 1860, Osborn, born around two years later, Polly born about 1868, Isabella, born some five years later and Jane, born around 1877. They appear to be wintering out at the Black Horse, in the parish of Eaton Socon and Isabella’s mother, a widow, is named as Saney Welch. Her age is listed as 80, although she was really about 70 at the time and her death, in the registration district of St. Neots on 5th February 1884, as Chrisania Welch, records her age as 73, which is much more likely.

Of Mendoza Welch there seems no trace after the court case of 1875, perhaps he died between that time and the census of 1881, or used an alternate name – but from 1875 he slips out of the records and, together with his fiddle, disappears from our view.

Below is a photograph of Samuel Endersby, taken at the time of his arrest in 1875, and kindly supplied by the Bedfordshire record office.

Copyright © 2013 Anne-Marie Ford